Grosse Pointe CityAugust 15, 2012
City likely to amend some zoning as it works on revised master plan
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
GROSSE POINTE CITY — City leaders continue to work on a revised master plan that’s expected to lay the foundation for the community in the years ahead.
This month, talks are expected to continue on the master plan, which has already been the subject of meetings with residents and businesses. The City Council discussed the latest developments during a presentation by City Planner John Jackson of McKenna Associates at a July 16 meeting.
Along Mack, Jackson said property owners have been asking for greater flexibility with regard to land use, but that could create problems because of a lack of parking in certain areas — something that needs to be addressed. Businesses might need to approach homeowners adjacent to their properties in the future to create additional parking, he said.
“It would be a private transaction… but they would also go through the site plan approval process,” Jackson said, noting that if a deal fell through, the plan wouldn’t be approved.
Such changes would also require rezoning, he said — something the council would need to do.
“There’s a number of steps in the process before (the business) could make a lot of disturbances in the neighborhood,” Jackson said.
The smaller, more residential nature of the business district on Fisher Road has officials considering changing its designation to a neighborhood business district, which would be more in keeping with the character of the area than commercial, Jackson said. There are limited opportunities for parking expansion, and City Manager Peter Dame said businesses don’t have the option of purchasing homes behind them to expand parking like they might along Mack. Jackson said they need a flexible, almost case-by-case analysis with regard to any new or expanded businesses in that area and parking requirements.
The creation of a health care district to cover Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe is something city officials have been looking at for a long time, and something likely to be approved this year. However, Jackson said that while they have an aging population and “there’s a lot of benefits” to having the hospital complex in the community, they need to balance that with the tight-knit residential neighborhood adjacent to the hospital, especially with regard to those living on Notre Dame, where the hospital owns several residential properties. Jackson said they came up with a tiered approach featuring a “generous greenbelt” roughly the size of existing residential front yards on Notre Dame, so one side of the street would mirror the other. To protect residents on the east side of Notre Dame, Dame said the hospital would only have access from Jefferson and Cadieux.
“I like the buffer area,” City Council member John Stempfle said. “I would think this would help the residents on Notre Dame.”
He said he hoped the hospital would keep residents informed as far as any possible future plans were concerned.
The hospital has said the creation of more patient rooms is essential to its long-term viability, and Dame said he anticipated a possible future hospital plan might call for an expansion at the height of the existing hospital facility. Jackson said if the hospital wants to rezone any property, it would need to provide an overall master plan to the community. City leaders are proposing taller developments be limited to the interior of the hospital campus to limit the visual impact on nearby residents.
Notre Dame resident Judith LeBeau is one of a handful of property owners who would be most directly impacted by any future expansion of hospital facilities or parking. Of the 11 homes in her area, she said she lives in one of only four not purchased by Beaumont. Like her neighbors, she loves her street and wants to stay there. City leaders have said no one would be forced from their homes by Beaumont, but residents still have worries about any hospital proposals that might be made. LeBeau said she’s “very concerned” about the height of the hospital and parking deck, and how it might affect her street.
From residents to business owners to visitors, the Village is one area whose future impacts a wide spectrum. No wonder, then, that its future generated lively debate around the council table.
City Council member Andrew Turnbull said he felt they were limiting potential tenants by restricting the first floor of Kercheval frontages to retail businesses and asked that the council consider variances should a viable non-retail proposal come through. He said they could consider capping non-retail Kercheval frontages at a certain percentage to decrease vacancies.
“Retail as we know it has changed and continues to change,” Turnbull said.
But City Council member Jean Weipert disagreed, pointing out that it’s hard to approve one variance and not another.
“We have to be flexible, but we also don’t want to destroy the retail character of the Village,” she said. “It’s a unique area.”
And Dame pointed out that the council has broadened the definition of retail and “significantly reduced the amount of retail frontage” required in recent years. In addition, he said, there are still rear Kercheval spaces that haven’t been used by office tenants. Dame said the district needs a certain percentage of retail usage to attract other retailers.
“I’d be very reluctant to reduce (retail) further,” he told the council.
Weipert said office tenants historically can afford to pay higher rents. She noted that the Village’s neighboring business district, the Hill in Grosse Pointe Farms, “looks wonderful,” but has lost most of its stores as office tenants have taken over.
City Council member Christopher Walsh concurred. He said they haven’t had landlords approaching the city with proposals for non-retail uses from developers.
“Our zoning is not providing obstacles at this point,” Walsh said.
Dame recommended tweaking the plan and being cognizant of marketplace changes, but also recognizing and preserving the character of the district.
“The worst time to open the floodgates is during a bad economy,” he said, adding that once they do so, they won’t be able to change later. “If you have a good plan, it will work.”
Jackson said developers could turn to a planned unit development, or PUD, for any project that would contribute to the overall vision for the Village. They need to consider what they can do to add value to the district and create critical mass, which might mean a theater or hotel, or mixed-use development, he said.
Sunrise-owned property on St. Clair, adjacent to the Village, could still become senior housing, or it could be turned into a hotel, office or multi-family dwelling, among other possible transitional or mixed uses, Jackson said. Because the property is zoned as a PUD, the council has more latitude with regard to what could be built there, he said.
At press time, Dame said the council was likely to set a public hearing date for the master plan at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 20, as long as they were comfortable with releasing a draft of the plan by then. Walsh said people would be able to comment on the proposed master plan at the public hearing, which hadn’t been scheduled at press time. For a meeting agenda or more information, visit www.grossepointecity.org.
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